Sunday, March 04, 2012

Prayers of the Church for Lent 2

P: God of Abraham and Sarah, we come before you in prayer, humbled by your creativity and call, awed that you are constantly doing new things. We are wondering and dreaming and hoping, imagining what you might do next.

A: Promising God, we remember your promise to Sarah and Abraham to make of them a great nation. We hear these words, "Kings of people shall come from her," and we think of our own children, our own nieces and nephews, our own grandchildren. We cherish who they are, and we dream of what they might become. Lead our children, our offspring, by your Spirit, and guide us to be the kinds of parents, adults, leaders, teachers they need in order to flourish and thrive in your world. God of Abraham and Sarah, you keep your promises. 

A: Faith. Trust. Hope. You offer us many models of faithfulness, give us reason to trust, and are our only hope. Help us learn from the saints who have gone before us and now rest in you. Let faith be our center, trust be our glue, and hope be our guide. Open us, through this faith, hope, and trust, to engagement with those of other faiths--Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, other Christians. Give us a vision of how you see them. Envelop us in your dreams, Lord. God of Abraham and Sarah, you keep your promises.

A: We pray for families who long for children, for foster families, adoptive families, and expecting families. We pray for those, like Jesus, who remain single and build community, and give birth to new ministries and communities, in other ways than biological. We pray for those with disabilities, and we name before you now out loud those in need of healing (Linda, Albert, Bob, Fern, Debbie, Judy, Zach). As a community we take time now to voice our many prayers aloud to you [pause here for time for the congregation to pray out loud]. God of Abraham and Sarah, you keep your promises.

A: We continue to pray for our elected leaders and those campaigning for public office. We pray for the many needs of the world, for the nations of Syria, Iran, Israel, North Korean. Let each nation do the work necessary that leads to peace. We pray for those who lose their lives for the sake of your gospel. As we continue in this Lenten season, turn us to you in prayer, out to our neighbors as we give to the poor, and away from self-indulgence as we fast. God of Abraham and Sara, you keep your promises.

P: Into your hands we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, gifted with faith in you, and hopefully dreaming of your tomorrow. Amen.


  1. Mark S.6:45 PM

    Clint, I think these prayers come from a really lovely place, but I have to admit they make me a bit uneasy. And I think this is the reason why: it seems very us-centered (our community, our families, our dreams).

    One of the virtues of the older prayers of the people is how they clearly prioritize the order of the universe: church, world/nation, human needs generally, our community, ourselves, with the dead often rounding out the list. This order is all-inclusive, is an invitation to us to assume our proper place in this order, and also shows us how our attention must first be directed outside ourselves in order for us and what is ours to actually make any real and meaningful sense. Which is to say, the prayer of the people is an act of real love.

    I wonder, though, if the prayer you used wasn’t meant as both explicit catechesis and encouragement--which would more readily explain its us-centeredness. But the placement of the prayer in the liturgy is also a clue to its purpose. Following the creed in which we have joyously confessed our faith in the same words our Christian ancestors, brothers and sisters use and have used for millennia, we corporately assume the duties of our baptismal priesthood and boldly approach the altar of God to do that which Adam failed to do but which we, in Christ, are empowered to do: offer prayer to God on behalf of all of creation. This prayer does not form the prelude to the Eucharist which will follow, as if they were two different things. No. The Eucharist radically completes this prayer and answers it: turns supplication into rejoicing and gives us grace in the giving and receiving of Our Lord’s beautiful, full homely, but truly glorious, body and blood. In the prayer of the people, we pray for healing--in the Eucharist, we receive the Healer. We pray on behalf of a broken world--in the Eucharist, we receive a foretaste of the world to come. The prayer of the people, then, is not a catechetical moment, not a moment for our own encouragement, but a living-into of our calling to be a nation of priests.

    There are also some things in the prayer you used which cause me some small concern. Trust is no real substitute for charity, which usually rounds out lists of the theological virtues (faith, hope, charity). Charity, in fact, includes trust. Faith, too, includes trust, as does hope. Why are we being encouraged to view trust as separate from faith and hope? In the same section, the listing of various religions seemed odd to me--we begin with Judaism, our sister religion; then we come to Islam, sharing with us a common Abrahamic heritage; then Hinduism, which shares with us a belief in the Divine; then Buddhism, which believes in divine entities, but not quite in the way we do; then agnosticism, which would rather not talk about Divinity; then atheism, which denies Divinity; and finally…other Christians. What we learn here is that we who pray this prayer have more in common with Hindus than with other Christians, though by the end of that section, Hindus and other Christians have become equally mysterious to us...


    1. Mark S.6:47 PM


      Finally, I wonder if the prayer is not a bit too sentimental? It’s interesting to insist that God dreams, but such a vision of God seems to depart from a tradition that sees God not as dreaming, but acting, now, decisively, in us, in our world, making all things new not because he dreamed it up, but because he is what he is--because the renewal of all things, accomplished in Jesus Christ, is an established and eternal reality into which he invites us to live. The tension-filled eschatological position of the Church as the “already but not yet” Kingdom of God does not invite us to view the “not yet” as dream, but as a reality towards which and into which we are corporately moving in Christ. Maybe the persistent “dream” language is asking us to see God as an eccentric friend--a humanizing device. And yes, God is our friend, but he’s so much more than that. The danger of sentimental religion is that it eschews the “so much more.” It allows us to be comfortable in the doorway, at the entrance to the house of faith, it wraps us in the warm familiarity of immediate surroundings and concerns, for us and for what is ours. But it often prevents us from going deeper, from exploring the house, and can even make us uncomfortable when we are finally asked to take our place at the table and participate in the heavenly banquet--a participation which is service, which is following Our Lord’s injunction to “do this”--to break and be poured out, in love, for all. St. Augustine encourages us in the Eucharist to behold what we are and to be what we behold. That is a high calling. And sentimentality cannot adequately prepare us to take it up. So it seems potentially dangerous, to me, to court a sentimental approach to religion.

      Thanks, Clint, for this great forum: for your faith, your steadfastness, and your witness.


  2. Clint,

    I look forward to your thoughts.


  3. Mark, I don't think I can attend to all of your points, point by point, but I'll try, because you have honored me by analyzing the prayer so closely.

    First, this is a somewhat atypical approach to the prayers in our context, and I wrote it to try and have the prayers be a response to the preaching and theme for the day. We typically use a more "classical" approach to the Prayers of the Church, structured as you allude to at the beginning--world, church, human needs, etc.

    However, the prayers that I've posted here are only us-centered if you think the "us" represents only the one congregation praying the prayer, rather than us representing any Christian community praying the prayers.

    I did not know there was a rule in prayers saying that you should pray for charity rather than trust. It would seem to me, over the grand sweep of weekly prayer, that there is room for both.

    The prayer for other faiths is modeled after a prayer at the end the wonderful movie Of Gods and Men. I can't see any problems with the prayer as I've written it, in spite of your critique.

    As to the sentimentality of the prayer, that may very well be. My goal was to write a prayer that people would actually hear and participate in. Some of the more "classic" forms of the prayer become rote. This was an attempt to make it more hear-able.

    I think your main point is that the Prayers of the Church lead into the Eucharist. That is a worthy liturgical insight I will ponder as I write prayers in the future.


  4. Mark S.4:26 PM


    You write: “Some of the more "classic" forms of the prayer become rote. This was an attempt to make it more hear-able.”

    I think this is a very praiseworthy motivation. So often it behooves us to find some way or ways to renew our life of prayer.

    Let me just pause here and say something which may sound off-topic. But speaking of unities both organic and rhetorical…I’m a firm believer in the bigness of the Christian table. Truth be told, I’m an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, but I don’t believe that every Christian should worship like me and am actually proud of the way that Anglicanism (up until recently, at any rate) has been able to hold in creative tension the impulse for evangelical reform on the one hand and the impulse to cling to and maintain catholic tradition on the other. I firmly believe that there’s room in Christianity for a wide range of expressions of our common faith.

    That said, I often feel like the traditional forms of our common faith are the first things to be thrown out the window when we’re seeking renewal. That so often, “thees" and “thous” and the sorts of liturgy and piety that accompany them are seen as a musty and empty religiosity, notwithstanding that many still find them invigorating and are desirous to be shaped by them in the course of their Christian journey. I fear that the fantastic (and sometimes fantastical!) mystical poetry and drama of the traditional liturgy is giving way to an increasingly more prosaic expression of the faith in what seems to me the mistaken beliefs that our religion must become simpler and/or more rational in order to be more contemporary, and that the traditional forms are old and dead while the contemporary forms (which I recognize as valid, though I am not drawn to them) are spirit-filled and new. It seems like, increasingly, there is less and less room at the table for tradition, even as more and more people are claiming that the table is (or needs to be) getting bigger and bigger. And in the process, the balance, the creative tension between reform and tradition is being lost.


  5. Mark S.4:27 PM


    It puts me in mind of a conversation I had with a pastor who told me of a time when he was mentoring some seminarians on liturgy. If I remember correctly, the students were asked to submit a liturgical response to a particular prompt, and one of the students began with something like, “Well, first, when sit in a circle, then I take out my guitar, and then we all start singing,” and the pastor basically said (and I paraphrase heavily), “Okay. Wait. Hold up. You realize that when you do that, you say something very specific about worship and tradition. You’re saying that this is all brand new. That we’ve never done this before. That we need have no connection to our past in order to move forward--that we can, in fact, ditch the past in order to move forward. That we’re just making it up as we go along. You may want to say all those things. But how do those things reflect on the timeless truths of your faith and the way they’ve been expressed for centuries? How are those things supposed to give a sense of the church as a safe and stable place in the midst of seas of often meaningless change? What comfort will you be giving those seeking succor and relief from the buffeting of the world, the flesh and the devil when you subtly, if unintentionally, suggest in this way that the underpinnings of their faith can be pulled out from under them at any moment?” A different way of saying that is: if everything is adiaphora or optional, nothing is actually needful.

    And really, if I’m honest, that’s often my perspective when I encounter the more contemporary forms of Christian expression. And that’s my problem, of course, and not yours, because that perspective comes, in part, from a place in me of fear and mistrust, not a place of open-heartedness. And while I recognize that in myself and attempt to deal with it, I’d be lying if said I didn’t actually have a harder time hearing the more contemporary forms. Needless to say, the balance I find so desirable in the church is something of which I am myself in need!

    Thanks again, Clint, for being willing to engage in the discussion!